Herbivore to Hen-butcher / by Anna Li

I thought I'd reached the point in my internship where there'd be no more curveballs. I dance the Ikalahan tribal dance at every celebration. I have lost count how many times I've eaten blood sausage and chicken feet. I've been forced to sing a Ilocano/Kalahan/Tagalog solo in front of church every weekend that I've been here. But no.

"You will pik-pik," my Auntie tells me. She makes a motion like beating an imaginary drum. What she means is I will butcher the chickens.

 The face says it all. 

The face says it all. 

My cousins are binding the hen's feet together with a piece of string and Auntie gives me a stick, which is long and whittled into a sharp point. My cousins already helped me beat the wings, which is where someone holds the neck and the feet, and the butcher spreads open the wings like a fan and hits it until the blood moves out and toward the body. "Pik-pik," Auntie says again. She holds an imaginary chicken in one hand, and in the other she mimics hitting the stick against its head. "Killing it softly," she tells me. 

Let me explain a few things to you.

When I was five, I tried hatching the eggs from our fridge because of one too many viewings of the movie Fly Away Home. At the age of ten, I was so disturbed by the way that the cartoon chickens were slaughtered in Chicken Run that I went on a chicken strike for two years. I pass out within a twenty foot radius of a needle and cover my eyes at even the slightest trickle of blood from a paper cut. 

But here I am, one hand holding the chicken by the feet, the other holding a massive stick. And this is not a docile chicken that has accepted its fate, awaiting death with the patience of a dramatic soap opera death scene. There is no "killing softly," where the dying thing aches out a quiet final breath. No. This chicken is wailing. It sounds like chicken squabbling, but the desperation mutates it into a wail similar to a baby crying or a pitchy opera singer. This chicken is fighting for its life with the ferocity of Manny Pacquiao. It tries to writhe its way out of my grasp by rotating its body like a ceiling fan and flapping its wings so all you can see is a blur of feathers. It flicks blood onto my feet.

I pull back my stick and wack it on the cranium. Nothing. The chicken still spinning in my hand like a blender. "Hit it harder," my boardmate Epharene says. "It's like softball. Keep your eye on the ball." Just like a game of softball, a twisted game of softball. Except in this case, the ball is a cranium that makes a thick sound like knocking on a door, and every time I hit it, it flicks more blood onto me in retaliation. Also, it does not help that my parents took me out of softball after two weeks because all I did was make daisy chains in the outfield. 

After a few more tries, Epharene quits coaching me from the sidelines and gets tired of watching my failed attempts to knock out this chicken. She grabs the chicken from my hands and before I know it, she slams the cranium against a table with a solid thud. The chicken stops moving. 

"Home run," she says. 

I wish I could tell you that this is teaching me something profound. About acclimating to culture or sacrificing comfort, and it is. But I think that the biggest lesson I'm learning through this is that there will always be the unexpected curveballs, always. And that I should never become a butcher, even if friends back home have dubbed me "Chik-kill-a."

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 I had no idea what I was doing. 

I had no idea what I was doing.